Students take annual conference by storm

youth climate activists

Students take annual conference by storm

By Claire Squire

If you attended CCL’s June conference and thought the crowd seemed a little younger than usual, your observation was correct. This year, the number of students at the annual conference nearly doubled, jumping from about 200 students in attendance in 2018 to 380 this June. The youth climate activists came from chapters across the country, both on campus and off. 

The surge in attendance coincided with an extraordinary year of youth climate activism, from the Sunrise Movement pushing the Green New Deal to global climate strikes inspired by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg. Clara Fang, CCL’s Higher Education Outreach Coordinator, and her team worked hard to help increase youth engagement. CCL’s efforts to recruit students to the conference included giving discount registration to students and providing scholarships for people of color and conservatives to help with the cost of travel. In addition, Clara says, “the Higher Education Action Team worked to invite young people from CCL’s 500+ chapters; we sent emails to our contacts at hundreds of universities.” Those efforts paid off and had a substantial impact on conference attendees.

Student experience

Attending the conference and participating in lobby day proved an inspirational experience for the young attendees, many of whom were there for the first time. Fabien Acher, a college student and campus leader at the University of Cincinnati, says, “This conference blew away my expectations. The connections I made, the tools I learned, the motivation from 1,500 active individuals coming together for a cause….and of course the dance parties were all contributing factors in making this an incredibly constructive and meaningful conference.”

youth climate activists

A first-time lobbyist, University of Southern Utah student Paul Rhodes III was hesitant to sit down with his member of Congress. After participating in lobby day, however, Paul says he “learned that politicians aren’t scary, and that if you prepare well, you can have a respectful conversation with anyone, even if they staunchly disagree with you.” Other students agreed that the experience of lobbying helped to break down barriers that had previously prevented them from engaging in their government or talking with their representatives. Kaitlyn Wampler, a recent graduate from IUPUI, recounts leaving her lobby sessions and thinking, “Holy smokes. I can walk into my town’s city council meetings and make my concerns known. When I have an idea or when I catch something that’s not working well in my world, I know now that officials are real people.” 

Big takeaways and new ideas

The lobby day not only provided the opportunity for breakthroughs on the ways citizens can be engaged in their government, but also resulted in new ideas on ways students can be climate advocates and improve CCL. Jess Wilber, a campus leader at Oberlin College, wants to make CCL a more diverse organization. “I want to do what I can to ensure that the conference is as positive an experience for everyone as it was for me.” 

Jonathan Sampson of MIT says that he found CCL’s bipartisan approach “refreshing,” and that his most important takeaway was “to avoid vilifying those that don’t necessarily agree with you.” Fabian Acher adds, “I was sad to leave the conference, but it motivated me to spread the incredible CCL approach to my hometown and everywhere I may go.” To hear more first-hand reactions from students about their conference and lobby day experience, check out the video below:

Youth engagement

Clara Fang, who works with students, says “I was so impressed by the number of students that came and their excitement to make a difference.” Students who attended the conference or who are just becoming involved have many opportunities to impactfully engage within CCL. For those in college, CCL has youth-oriented programs such as the Campus Leaders Program, Regional Fellows Program, and internships. These programs allow students to take leadership roles on-campus or in their communities to build support for climate action. Additionally, younger people from ages 12-18 can join CCL’s youth engagement action team. However students choose to engage, their voices and involvement help CCL become more representative, effective, and impactful, building the political will for a livable world as citizens with the most at stake.

First steps for new CCLers in high school, middle school, and college:

If you’re interested in helping with young engagement and outreach, please contact gro.y1634859123bbole1634859123tamil1634859123csnez1634859123itic@1634859123gnaf.1634859123aralc1634859123

Claire Squire is an intern with CCL’s Communications team and a second-year Environmental Management student at Indiana University.